On April 7, 1812, Henry ("Harry") George Wakelyn Smith, the day after the storming of Badajoz, is camped outside the town's walls with other officers, when they are approached by a Spanish lady and her thirteen or fourteen year old sister, Juana Maria de Los Dolores de León. The sisters are from a Spanish noble family and are descendants of Juan Ponce de León. They tell the officers that they have lost everything and are seeking their protection from plundering troops inside the town. The officers offer their protection. Within days Smith marries the fourteen year old sister, Juana Maria. Smith is 24 years old. Juana will accompany him in the army for the rest of the Peninsular War and in almost all his deployments, including South Africa, where Harry, now Sir Harry, will serve as Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner. They will be married for over forty years.
Harry Smith will look back in shocked outrage at the"scene of horror" that followed the surrender of Badajoz, but he will also appreciate that this horror allowed him to find the "solace and the whole happiness" of his life. He describes it this way:
Now comes a scene of horror I would willingly bury in oblivion....Yet this scene of debauchery, however cruel to many, to me has been the solace and the whole happiness of my life for thirty-three years. A poor defenceless maiden of thirteen years was thrown upon my generous nature through her sister, as described so ably in Johnny Kincaid's book, of which this is an extract–
"I was conversing with a friend the day after, at the door of his tent, when we observed two ladies coming from the city, who made directly towards us; they seemed both young, and when they came near, the elder of the two threw back her mantilla to address us, showing a remarkably handsome figure, with fine features; but her sallow, sun-burnt, and careworn, though still youthful, countenance showed that in her 'the time for tender thoughts and soft endearments had fled away and gone.'"She at once addressed us in that confident, heroic manner so characteristic of the high-bred Spanish maiden, told us who they were–the last of an ancient and honourable house–and referred to an officer high in rank in our army, who had been quartered there in the days of her prosperity, for the truth of her tale."Her husband, she said, was a Spanish officer in a distant part of the kingdom; he might, or he might not, still be living. But yesterday she and this her young sister were able to live in affluence and in a handsome house; to-day they knew not where to lay their heads, where to get a change of raiment or a morsel of bread. Her house, she said, was a wreck; and, to show the indignities to which they had been subjected, she pointed to where the blood was still trickling down their necks, caused by the wrenching of their ear-rings through the flesh by the hands of worse than savages, who would not take the trouble to unclasp them!"For herself, she said, she cared not; but for the agitated and almost unconscious maiden by her side, whom she had but lately received over from the hands of her conventual instructresses, she was in despair, and knew not what to do; and that, in the rapine and ruin which was at that moment desolating the city, she saw no security for her but the seemingly indelicate one she had adopted–of coming to the camp and throwing themselves upon the protection of any British officer who would afford it; and so great, she said, was her faith in our national character, that she knew the appeal would not be made in vain, nor the confidence abused. Nor was it made in vain! Nor could it be abused, for she stood by the side of an angel! A being more transcendingly lovely I had never before seen–one more amiable I have never yet known!"Fourteen summers had not yet passed over her youthful countenance, which was of a delicate freshness–more English than Spanish; her face, though not perhaps rigidly beautiful, was nevertheless so remarkably handsome, and so irresistibly attractive, surmounting a figure cast in nature's fairest mould, that to look at her was to love her; and I did love her, but I never told my love, and in the mean time another and a more impudent fellow stepped in and won her! But yet I was happy, for in him she found such a one as her loveliness and her misfortunes claimed–a man of honour, and a husband in every way worthy of her!""That a being so young, so lovely, and so interesting, just emancipated from the gloom of a convent, unknowing of the world and to the world unknown, should thus have been wrecked on a sea of troubles, and thrown on the mercy of strangers under circumstances so dreadful, so uncontrollable, and not have sunk to rise no more, must be the wonder of every one. Yet from the moment she was thrown on her own resources, her star was in the ascendant."Guided by a just sense of rectitude, an innate purity of mind, a singleness of purpose which defied malice, and a soul that soared above circumstances, she became alike the adored of the camp and of the drawing-room, and eventually the admired associate of princes. She yet lives, in the affections of her gallant husband, in an elevated situation in life, a pattern to her sex, and everybody's beau ideal of what a wife should be."
I confess myself to be the "more impudent fellow," and if any reward is due to a soldier, never was one so honoured and distinguished as I have been by the possession of this dear child (for she was little more than a child at this moment), one with a sense of honour no knight ever exceeded in the most romantic days of chivalry, an understanding superior to her years, a masculine mind with a force of character no consideration could turn from her own just sense of rectitude, and all encased in a frame of Nature's fairest and most delicate moulding, the figure of an angel, with an eye of light and an expression which then inspired me with a maddening love which, from that period to this (now thirty-three years), has never abated under many and the most trying circumstances. Thus, as good may come out of evil, this scene of devastation and spoil yielded to me a treasure invaluable; to me who, among so many dear friends, had escaped all dangers; to me, a wild youth not meriting such reward, and, however desirous, never able to express half his gratitude to God Almighty for such signal marks of His blessing shown to so young and so thoughtless a being. From that day to this she has been my guardian angel. She has shared with me the dangers and privations, the hardships and fatigues, of a restless life of war in every quarter of the globe. No murmur has ever escaped her. Bereft of every relative, of every tie to her country but the recollection of it, united to a man of different though Christian religion, yet that man has been and is her all, on whom have hinged the closed portals of hope, happiness, and bliss; if opened, misery, destitution, and bereavement, and every loss language can depict summed up in one word, "He is lost to me." But, O my God, Thou hast kindly spared us for each other; we have, through Thy grace, been but little separated, and we have, in unison of soul, received at Thy holy altar the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.24 May we, through His mediation, be still spared to each other in this life, and in the life to come be eternally united in Heaven!
After the disorganization our troops had rushed into, it became the duty of every officer to exert himself, and nobly did Colonel Barnard set about the task, and ably supported was he by every officer in the Division. We had not marched for the north two days when our soldiers were, like Richard, "themselves again." When the French garrison were marched to the rear, my Brigade furnished an escort to the next Division en route to Elvas. I paraded upwards of four thousand very orderly, fine-looking fellows. Many of the officers praised the gallantry of our men, and all said, "Why break ground at all with such soldiers? Had you stormed on the rainy night of the 17th March, you would have taken the place with half the loss." This is creditable to us, but the Duke of Wellington would have been by no means borne out in such an attempt.
However, as all this writing is to show rather my individual participation in these scenes of glory and bloodshed, I must dwell a little upon the joy of my marriage. I was only twenty-two, my wife just on the verge of fourteen. But in southern climates Nature more early develops herself and attains maturity. Every day was an increase of joy. Although both of us were of the quickest tempers, we were both ready to forgive, and both intoxicated in happiness. All my dearest friends–Charlie Beckwith, John Bell, Johnstone, Charlie Eeles, Jack Molloy, etc.–were saying to themselves, "Alas! poor Harry Smith is lost, who was the example of a duty-officer previously. It is only natural he must neglect duty now." I assured them all that the contrary would be the case, for love would incite me to exertions in hopes of preferment, the only mode I had to look to for a comfortable maintenance; and my wife's love, aided by her good sense, would see I was never neglecting her if engaged in the performance of my duty. Conscientiously did I act up to my feeling then, and no one ever did or ever could say, I was out of my place night or day.
My duty was my duty–I gloried in it; my wife even still more so, and never did she say, "You might have been with me," or complain if I was away. On the contrary, after many a day's fatiguing march, when I sought her out in the baggage or awaiting me, her first question invariably was, "Are you sure you have done all your duty?" Then I admit my attention was unbounded, and we were happy–oh, how happy, often amidst scenes of distress and privation that would have appalled stouter hearts, not devoted like ours! And oh, when I reflect on God's mercy to us both! In a succession of the most brilliant battles for years I was never even wounded, and, although I say it, no man ever exposed himself in every way more as a soldier, or rode harder as a sportsman. Wonderful, most wonderful, have been my hairbreadth escapes from falls of horses under and over me all over the world.
1. The autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B. by Sir Henry (Harry) George Wakelyn Smith (1788-1860). Ed. with the addition of some supplementary chapters by George Charles Moore Smith (1858-1940). London: J. Murray, 1903)at chapter VIII
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